RN Career Paths in Tennessee: Becoming an RN

Professional nursing in Tennessee in 2018 is a world of challenge and opportunity. The reputation of Tennessee healthcare organizations extends around the nation. At the same time, the state, like many, is challenged by chronic illness, an aging population, and health disparities. RNs provide direct care at the bedside and in the operating room. They also promote health at the individual and population levels.

Embarking on an RN Career in Tennessee

A person begins his or her RN career by enrolling in a program that has been approved by the Tennessee Board or a similar program that has been approved by the board in another state (RN programs in Tennessee). Licensure is dependent on passing an examination.

The program will include curriculum in adult and pediatric nursing, maternal nursing, and care of mentally and physically ill populations. In short, it is broad. The undergraduate degree awarded (associate’s, bachelor’s) will not affect licensing but will have some bearing on career options.

RNs are hired by hospitals and medical centers and, to a lesser degree, by health practitioner’s offices, extended care facilities, home health agencies, public and community health organizations, and academic institutions.

Positions are diverse, even within the same healthcare system. Vanderbilt University Medical Center has shared the career stories of a number of their nurses (http://www.vumcnursingcareers.com/index.html). They work at units and clinics as specialized as neuroscience acute care, cardiac progressive care, digestive disease center, psychiatric hospital.

RNs who provide care below the acute level are often responsible for creating and modifying treatment plans that will be carried out, at least in part, by nursing assistants.

Premier Tennessee Healthcare Organizations

Tennessee has nine magnet hospitals, all located in Memphis, Nashville, or Knoxville. Five are under the Vanderbilt banner; the Vanderbilt list includes one psychiatric hospital. Magnet hospitals are known for valuing the expertise and insight of nurses and for providing them with tools to improve patient care as well as advance their own careers.

Included among the Tennessee magnet facilities are three children’s hospitals, among them, the renowned St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which has been treating children with cancer since the early 1960s. One of the benefits to working at St. Jude’s is the kids. Another is promising futures. In the organization’s history, childhood cancer survival rates have gone from less than one in five to more than four in five.

Like other magnet facilities (and a number of other healthcare employers), the organization is able to offer its nurses generous benefits packages. Promising candidates can begin their careers there. St. Jude hires new graduates, most often for inpatient night shift positions.

New grad positions at St. Jude and residencies at Vanderbilt are for individuals who hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. They are in many ways competitive. There can be advantages to tailoring the experience and to starting out with that BSN.

The state has three Pathway-designated facilities. This honor is also bestowed by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. It can be easier for a smaller facility to obtain. Pathway organizations, too, are considered nurse-friendly. Tennessee’s designated facilities are Franklin Woods Community Hospital in Johnson City, Maury Regional Medical Center in Columbia, and TriStar Summit Medical Center in Hermitage.

ANCC credentials are not bestowed lightly. Franklin Woods notes that the organization submitted a 900 page document which included input from many nurses about their experiences (https://www.mountainstateshealth.com/news/Franklin-Woods-recognized-by-American-Nurses-Credentialing-Center-as-one-of-the-best-places-to-work-for-nurses). The application process also included a survey which was returned by four in five of the organization’s nurses. Franklin Woods, notably, was also named outstanding employer of the year by the Tennessee Nurses Association in 2017.

A number of organizations examine healthcare options from an employee standpoint. The following Tennessee healthcare organizations made the Becker’s Hospital Review list of top healthcare employers for 2017:

  • Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare
  • Regional One Health
  • St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
  • NaviHealth

NaviHealth designs technological solutions; RNs may be hired into positions such as care coordinator.

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A Commitment to Health Improvement

Of great concern to leaders at the Tennessee Hospital Association, Tennessee Action Coalition, and other organizations: the challenge of meeting the needs of all populations. Tennessee has 66 small rural acute care hospitals; of these, 16 are certified as critical access (CAH). These facilities need dedicated, savvy staff nurses.

They – and other organizations around the state – also benefit from nurses who have skills in improving health at the population level.

Knoxville hosted a meeting of nurse leaders in 2016 to discuss innovative ways to promote population health (https://campaignforaction.org/culture-health-summer-photos). A Tennessee RN and Doctor of Public Health tells one story of success which took place in neighboring Kentucky. A grant allowed nurses to be trained as leaders of community health initiatives in a community that had particularly poor health indicators. The results? Access to clean water, greater health awareness, strides in emergency preparedness.

Career Outlook and Average RN Salary in Tennessee

Impending retirements are a concern to Tennessee employers and healthcare organizations.,/p>

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development (2016) placed registered nursing at number four for growth out of all occupations.

Tennessee registered nurses earned an average of $28.08 in 2016.

The Tennessee registered nursing profession has been projected to see 25% occupational growth over the 2014 to 2024 decade.

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